“Some individuals mistakenly believe that having several doctors, rather than building a solid relationship with just one, will make them healthier,” says Dr Vuyokazi Gqola, Executive: Healthcare Management of Government Employees Medical Scheme (GEMS).
“This logic is flawed because consulting many different doctors, which is sometimes referred to as ‘doctor hopping’, means that none of them have your full medical history and records. When you are ill and seeking a diagnosis from one of several doctors, they are not provided with the full picture of your overall general state of health’’.
“If the doctor you visit for a particular illness is not your only doctor, they may not have all in the information they need to make an informed and accurate diagnosis. Your doctor needs to be aware of your family’s medical history, all medicines you may be taking and, preferably, your previous illnesses dating back to childhood,” she explains.
According to Dr Gqola, doctor hopping can be extremely dangerous, particularly if the patient does not present all this important information at the start of their appointment. Going through your full medical history may be time consuming, and sometimes patients may forget one or two details that could be vital for a trained medical professional, but may seem unimportant to the patient.
“If you routinely stick to one doctor, also known as a family practitioner, they would know if, for example, your blood pressure tends to be lower than average. This could possibly be a physical trait that runs in your family, which your own doctor would recognise as not being a symptom of the illness you are seeking treatment for’’.
“However, if you are doctor hopping and consulted a new doctor who did not know this about you, they may base their diagnosis of the illness on the fact that your blood pressure is unusually low. This may lead the doctor to prescribe medicine that is unnecessary, and could in fact lead to some unpleasant side effects without addressing the cause of your illness.”
Getting to know your family practitioner
The relationship you have with your doctor can, to a large extent, influence the quality of healthcare they are able to provide for you. This means giving them all the information they need and in turn getting all the information that you need as a patient.
“The basis of the patient-doctor relationship is one of trust. Patients should remember that doctors have to keep your medical information private, they cannot tell anyone what you have discussed with them during an appointment or pass on information about your health,” Dr Gqola says.
“Doctors are professionals who are only concerned with the healthy functioning of the human body. If you tell your doctor that you drink alcohol excessively or smoke, for example, they will likely advise you to quit for the sake of your health but they cannot tell your family or employer about it. They are only interested in your health and are trained to receive all information patients share with them on this basis, without judgement and in strict confidentiality.”
Dr Gqola says that individuals should be comfortable to discuss intimate details with their doctor that may have relevance for their health. “In the course of a doctor’s training and experience, they develop a very different view of the physical body and all aspects that may have bearing on a patient’s health. Therefore if your doctor asks you to undress or asks questions about your sex life, for example, there is generally a good medical reason why this is necessary,” she explains.
“This being said, if you have any reason to think that the doctor is behaving inappropriately, that is, outside the accepted scope of professional behaviour, then you have every right to voice your concerns. Trust is a two-way process, and has mutual respect as its foundation.”
Tips for getting the best out of your relationship with your doctor:
- Tell your doctor all about any illnesses or allergies you may have, including childhood illnesses you may have had, such as chickenpox.
- When you go to the doctor, take all medicines, supplements and herbal remedies that you are using with you to show the doctor.
- Be honest with your doctor and share all information that might be relevant to your health, from special dietary requirements to the smallest symptoms.
- Before your appointment, make a list of all symptoms so that you do not forget anything, and make a note of when you first noticed the symptoms.
- Ask as many questions as you need to about any tests to be performed, the diagnosis and exactly how to take any medicine prescribed. If you do not ask questions, your doctor will naturally think that you understand completely.
- Follow your doctor’s instructions for medicine and treatments very carefully and accurately.
- There is no need to be embarrassed when discussing anything with your doctor, no matter how personal.
“Committing to one doctor, or one doctors’ practice, often means that you will not need to have the same tests twice, and usually results in a more streamlined treatment process with less likelihood that you would need to be admitted to hospital. If your family practitioner decides that you require the opinion of a specialist, he or she is able to direct you to the correct specialist for your individual needs. This approach can also save you money, and help you to make the most of your medical scheme benefits,” Dr Gqola explains.